Various Artists

Miles from India

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It was such a simple concept. Producer Bob Belden (who has directed the Miles Davis reissue series) was talking with Times Square label owner Yusuf Gandhi about Miles' use of Indian instrumentation during The Complete On the Corner Sessions and wondered aloud what it would sound like if Indian musicians played Miles' music. Gandhi replied "Miles from India," and nearly a year later Belden delivered this brilliant set that not only features a number of India's finest musicians but a veritable who's who of Miles' own sidemen. In perhaps the boldest move, Belden and the musicians looked well beyond Miles' 1972-1975 sessions with Indian instruments for inspiration, performing tracks from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s (the same time span covered by Miles' associates on this album). Another fun thing about these performances is that some of Miles' sidemen play on songs they didn't originally play on -- like the opener, "Spanish Key," featuring Mike Stern and Dave Liebman. But despite some additional Indian percussion and vocalizing, "Spanish Key" doesn't vary much from the original. On the other hand, "All Blues" is completely transformed, with Ravi Chary's sitar taking the place of Miles' trumpet. The Gary Bartz/Rudresh Mahanthappa sax duet on this is a real treat, as are the presence and playing of Jimmy Cobb, who also played on the original 1959 Kind of Blue session. The fast version of "Ife" marks the entrance of monster bass player Michael Henderson and the wonderfully deranged guitar of Pete Cosey, who does not record nearly enough. After the lovely but relatively brief sarod-led "In a Silent Way," it's great to hear Cosey rip it up on "It's About That Time." He's nearly matched in intensity by Bartz's sax and Kala Ramnath's violin while Henderson does his thing with that killer Dave Holland bassline. Stern gets to reprise his role on the classic "Jean Pierre," paired with some great flute from Rakesh Chaurasia.

Chick Corea appears only on "So What," but turns in a great piano solo with some tasty inside-the-piano work. Like "All Blues," "So What" becomes something else again with the addition of a trio of Indian percussionists and a change in time signature. And while the bassline of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" doesn't really lend itself to Henderson's signature propulsive style, the percussionists lock in with him, providing a platform for more sick playing from Cosey. "Blue in Green" has Wallace Roney's trumpet singing with Shankar Mahadevan's voice and then sarangi in another sublime transformation. Here, Mike Stern's solo is as gentle as the one on "Jean Pierre" was noisy. Henderson and drummer Vince Wilburn kick it on "Great Expectations," which segues briefly into the introspective "Orange Lady" and back. Chary and Roney both contribute excellent solos and Cosey goes nuts (why doesn't he record more?). Fortunately, he gets plenty more space on the slow version of "Ife," both soloing and comping. The rhythm section of Henderson and Badal Roy on tabla is completely hypnotic here, providing a perfect base for languid solos from Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz and some nice spacy sounds from Cosey and Adam Holzman. The album closes with the only track Miles didn't record: "Miles from India," penned by John McLaughlin for this set. Scored for voice, piano, guitar, and the electric mandolin of U. Srinivas, it's a pensive and atmospheric track that nevertheless features some passionate soloing. And that's merely touching on some of the highlights. Folks like Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, Ndugu Chancler, and Lenny White haven't even been mentioned, let alone some of the great Indian musicians also present here.

The essence of jazz is improvisation and expression, and Miles always sought out highly individual players. The beauty of Miles from India is how the players from different cultures and backgrounds meet on Miles' turf with their individual voices completely intact. Miles from India is not only an amazing celebration of the music of Miles Davis, it's also a tribute to the way Miles and Teo Macero changed the way jazz music can be made. Granted, it's the musicians involved who turn in these scorching performances, but this album was recorded in Mumbai, India, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Saylorsburg, PA (!?), and would not have been possible without the studio techniques Macero pioneered with Miles. Perhaps, like Macero, Bob Belden will be remembered more for his production than his horn playing. Either way, with Miles from India, Belden has outdone himself and delivered a tribute that succeeds completely on every level. Kudos to all involved. [Miles from India is also available as a beautiful 3 LP set.]

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